Diurnal cortisol rhythms, fatigue and psychosocial factors in five-year survivors of ovarian cancer

Michaela G. Cuneo, Andrew Schrepf, George M. Slavich, Premal H. Thaker, Michael Goodheart, David Bender, Steve W. Cole, Anil K. Sood, Susan K. Lutgendorf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Fatigue is a challenge in ovarian cancer survivorship and greatly impacts quality of life. In other cancer populations, fatigue has been associated with abnormal diurnal cortisol patterns. However, little is known about biological and behavioral factors in 5+-year ovarian cancer survivors and potential mechanisms underlying persistent fatigue have not been investigated in this population. Moreover, relationships between neuroendocrine and psychosocial factors in 5+-year ovarian cancer survivors have not been studied. We addressed these issues by examining relationships between diurnal cortisol rhythms, fatigue, life stress, and social support in 30 survivors of ovarian cancer who were assessed at least 5 years (mean = 6.20 years) following their primary diagnosis. Flatter diurnal cortisol slopes were associated with higher levels of fatigue, suggesting a role for HPA-axis dysregulation in sustained fatigue experienced by survivors. Moreover, greater cumulative lifetime stressor exposure (p = 0.023) and stressor severity (p = 0.004) were associated with flatter diurnal cortisol slopes, while higher social attachment (p = 0.001) was associated with steeper diurnal cortisol slopes. These findings suggest that ovarian cancer survivors with greater lifetime stress exposure or lower social attachment may be at increased risk for circadian rhythm disruption, which in turn is associated with fatigue. Future research should examine relationships of clinical stage and inflammatory cytokines to cortisol rhythms and fatigue in long-term ovarian cancer survivors, as well as investigating the clinical significance of abnormal diurnal cortisol profiles in this population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-142
Number of pages4
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Cortisol
  • Fatigue
  • Life stress
  • Long-term survival
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Social support


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